BLOG
how to choose long or short tail keywords
Click to hear an audio recording of this post

It’s an established fact that keywords are the lifeblood of SEO. 

Of course, there’s much more to an SEO strategy than just keywords. Unlike ’90s, it’s no longer possible to rank your pages by stuffing them with popular keywords. That’s why you need a sound keyword strategy to support your SEO and content marketing goals. 

And that’s where the raging discussion comes: 

Whether to target short tail or long tail keywords?

The short answer is: You need both. 

Why? 

Read on to understand. 

In this guide, you’ll discover:

  • What exactly short tail and long tail keywords are
  • Their benefits and challenges
  • When to use short tail and long tail keywords
  • Comparison — short tail vs long tail keywords

Let’s begin. 

What are Short Tail and Long Tail Keywords?

Short tail keywords — also known as head terms or seed keywords —  are search queries that usually contain one or two words. They tend to have high search volumes and competition. 

Also, they’re less specific and focus on broad topics. 

On the other hand, long tail keywords are search phrases with more than three words. They’re more specific and less competitive as compared to short tail keywords. 

That said, short tail keywords are the first thing that usually comes to mind when users search for information. However, it’s difficult for Google to identify and render results that match the exact search intent when users type short tail or general queries. 

For example, you’re looking forward to buying a “golf club set” online.  

Now, if you search for “golf club”, Google won’t know whether you’re looking for a golf club facility or a golf club set. So it may end up showing a cluster of results catering to various search intents like this: 

golf-club-Google-Search

As you can see, the results include:

  • Golf club facilities in Australia
  • The product page of an eCommerce website selling golf club sets
  • “People also ask” box with multiple questions related to “golf club”
  • Latest news stories related to golf and golf clubs 

Instead, let’s search with a specific (long tail) query i.e. “buy golf club set online”. 

buy-golf-club-set-online-Google-Search

Here, it’s easy for Google to identify the exact search intent i.e. you want to buy a golf club set. So it shows ads and organic results of product pages of different eCommerce sites. 

As a business owner, you need to dig into your audience’s online search queries and map the keywords to the various stages of their buying process.

Moreover, if you feel that it can be too much to handle in-house, you can hire professional SEO services to help you with keyword research. 

Short Tail Keywords Explained

Let’s start with some more examples of short tail keywords:

  • seo
  • backpacks
  • dropshipping
  • wordpress plugins
  • real estate
  • content marketing
  • running shoes
  • macbook pro, etc.

Did you notice that they all lack context and specific search intent? 

Now, let’s learn more about short tail keywords. 

Advantages of using Short tail keywords

Here are some of the benefits of targeting short tail keywords. 

1. High Search Volume

Since short tail keywords cater to a broad range of audiences, they have high search volume. 

For instance, the monthly search volume of the keyword “seo” is 1.6 million. It’s significantly higher as compared to its long tail counterpart — “how to optimise on-page seo” which has a global search volume of 150. (Data generated from Ahrefs Keyword Explorer)

So if your business ranks for popular head terms, you’d get a lot of traffic to your website. 

2. Helps Attract Top of the Funnel Visitors

Short tail keywords can help you drive the top-of-the-funnel (ToFU) traffic to your site. Here, when we say ToFU traffic, we mean the users in the “Awareness” stage in their buying journey

Although you can get a high number of visitors by ranking for head terms, they’re not necessarily the qualified visitors who may buy your products or services. 

Let’s say, you’re an eCommerce retailer and your site ranks for the keyword “macbook pro”. Now if a user searches for this term and lands on your site may not necessarily be a buyer because the user intent is quite vague here. 

But it is still good if you can manage to rank for such short tail competitive keywords as more people will be aware of your brand and you’ll get more traffic. Both are good in the longer run. 

3. Broad Scope 

If you target the short tail keywords correctly, you stand a good chance to rank for a wide variety of search terms. 

For instance, let’s revisit the above example of “macbook pro”. Given your webpages are well optimised for this keyword, they can rank for multiple other search queries like:

  • difference between macbook pro and macbook air
  • macbook pro specs
  • macbook pro variants and prices
  • buy macbook pro, etc. 

Thus, you can cater to wider audiences. However, as discussed, it’d be more of random traffic and not targeted visitors. 

Cons of using Short tail keywords

Now, let’s take a look at the downsides of targeting short tail keywords. 

1. High Competition

While short tail keywords have high search volume, they’re also highly competitive. It’s because everyone tries to target them due to their high traffic potential. 

Unless you’re an authority in your industry, it can be quite difficult to rank on the first page of Google for head terms. 

However, it doesn’t mean you don’t optimise your content for short tail keywords. Rather use them with long tail keywords to cover more grounds. 

2. Low Conversion Rate

Although ranking for short tail keywords can bring you high amounts of traffic, they don’t typically help with conversions. 

For example, a short tail keyword may have more than 10,000 searches and 100+ clicks, there could be hardly one or two conversions.  

However, it doesn’t mean that short tail keywords don’t convert at all. Owing to the fact that they don’t convey specific search intent, conversions could be low as compared to long tail keywords. 

3. High Cost Per Click (CPC) 

If you’re leveraging paid search advertising, bidding for short tail keywords can result in a much higher CPC. 

Again the logic is the same. Owing to the high search volume, many competitors bid for the same short tail keywords. And based on the bidding amount, the ads are positioned — the highest bidder on top and so on. 

Needless to say, this would result in high ad spend per visitor for your website. 

4. Low Focus

While we consider broad scope as one of the benefits of short tail keywords, it can also be a drawback when it comes to conversions. Since short tail keywords are generic in nature, they fail to attract users with specific search phrases and convert them.  

When to use Short Tail Keywords?

You can use short tail keywords for:

1. Content ideation

You can take up your industry-specific seed keywords to create content ideas around them. For instance, you’re a digital agency and one of the short tail keywords that you’d obviously want to rank for is “digital marketing”. You can use a tool like AnswerThePublic and generate content ideas for this keyword. 

short-tail-keyword-content-ideas

2. To create pillar content

The pillar-cluster content can help you strengthen your SEO and keyword strategy. You can use head terms to create pillar pages of your website and link out to various cluster pages from there. 

That said, ensure that you use the short tail keywords naturally within your content without targeting any keyword density. That’s the sure-shot way to avoid keyword stuffing. It’s also a good idea to insert these keywords into URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, image alt-texts, etc. 

Long Tail Keywords Explained

Long tail keywords include the head terms and modifiers. And here are the long tail counterparts of the seed keywords examples we saw earlier:

  • how to optimise on-page seo
  • backpacks for kids charity
  • top dropshipping suppliers in australia
  • best wordpress seo plugins 2022
  • how to invest in australian real estate
  • benefits of content marketing for saas businesses
  • ideal running shoes for marathon
  • how to format macbook pro, etc. 

Since we added the modifiers to the head terms, all of the above long tail keywords (more or less) communicate the context and search intent clearly. 

Let’s learn more about them. 

Pros of using Long tail keywords

Here are the main business and SEO benefits of targeting the long tail keywords. 

1. Low Competition 

Although long tail keywords account for 70% of all search queries, they’re typically less competitive as compared to the head terms. It’s a result of the inherent context and specificity of these search terms. 

Since there’s low competition for long tail keywords, it’s relatively easier to rank for them. However, that may not always be the case. Some high-authority sites also target long tail keywords. 

So you may need to compete for these keywords too. But the number of competitors will be less. Alternatively, you can also target long tail keywords for the sub-niche to further cut down competition and rank higher. 

For example, if you’re an SEO agency specialising in local SEO, then it can be easier for you to rank for the term “seo services for real estate businesses” than “local seo”.

2. High Conversion

One more reason to include long tail keywords in your SEO strategy is that they tend to convert better than head terms. 

No prize for guessing why it is so!

The obvious reason is that users searching for such specific phrases are clear about what they want and if your webpage offers exactly the same, their search ends there. 

It’s also important to note that the users navigate through various stages during the buying or conversion process. We can also call it a sales funnel which looks like this. 

long-tail-keywords-sales-funnel

Hence, the deeper they move in the funnel, their search queries become more specific. Thus, they’re already qualified prospects and easy to convert provided your content at each stage matches their requirements. 

3. High Focus 

As discussed above, long tail search queries are highly targeted and niche-specific, it sets you in a better position to drive traffic to your website. 

At the same time, when you target multiple related long tail keywords with great content, it helps you establish topical relevance for your niche. 

So the combination of highly targeted niche terms and topical authority results in qualified leads that may convert into paying customers eventually. 

4. Low Cost Per Click (CPC)

Because of low competition, there’ll be fewer competitors bidding for long tail keywords. Hence, winning impressions and clicks with these search terms is relatively easy and cost effective. 

Thus, you can bring down the cost of paid advertising and invest your resources in other areas of your business. 

Cons of using Long tail keywords

Here are some of the challenges related to the long tail keywords. 

1. Low Volume

Most long tail keywords have low search demand because there’ll be fewer people with very specific queries. So if your goal is to increase the quantity of your web traffic, short tail keywords are a better choice. 

But if you want to improve the quality of your traffic, then go for long tail keywords. 

At the same time, not all long tail keywords are low-volume and low-competition. There can always be some exceptions in every niche.

2. Can’t be Forced into Text 

It’s easy to insert short-tail keywords into content without sounding unnatural. However, when it comes to long tail keywords, you can’t shoehorn them into the content. 

In fact, that’s the surefire way to lower the readability and quality of your content. Therefore, you need to use long tail keywords organically within the body of your content. It may leave you with fewer opportunities to mention your focus keywords. 

But that’s okay. You can use them in places like titles, subheadings, meta descriptions, URL slugs, etc. 

When to use Long Tail Keywords?

You can use long tail keywords to:

1. Improve conversions

If you’re aiming at improving the quality of traffic and leads for better conversion opportunities, long tail keywords can come quite handy. They correctly represent the context and search intent of users’ queries. So it’s easier to attract and channel the targeted traffic through your sales funnel. 

2. Create cluster content

While head terms help you with pillar pages, you can use long tail keywords for your cluster content. 

Short Tail vs Long Tail Keywords

Now that we’ve covered a great deal about short tail and long tail keywords, here’s a quick comparison table for easy reference. 

short-vs-long-tail-keywords

The Long and Short of Keywords

If you’ve read through the entire post, now you must be clear that short tail and long tail keywords are not mutually exclusive. And one doesn’t have to be included at the cost of the other. 

In fact, when combined, they make for a comprehensive SEO and content strategy. 

At the same time, they both have different purposes, benefits, and challenges. So depending on your business and SEO goals, you need to use them interchangeably or together as needed. 

Also, feel free to if you need help with SEO or keyword strategy. We’re always up for a chat. 

 

Enter Your Website & get an instant SEO Report for FREE